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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Vettel best of the rest as Rosberg secures maiden title - Sebastian frightens Mercedes on way to rare podium


Rosberg kept his head and refused to be drawn in by Hamilton’s games
Credit: Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix

The marathon 2016 season is finished, and the final round followed a pattern that seemingly everyone but Mercedes expected. Lewis Hamilton had a clear pace advantage throughout the weekend over the rest of the field, but he needed luck, help or a little ingenuity to secure a fourth world title. He tried everything, but came up just short, running against team orders and helping to set up a thrilling finale to the season.

Vettel ends torrid season on a high

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 5th, Finished 3rd

Poor strategy calls and falling behind in the development race haven’t been the only problems at Maranello this season. Sebastian Vettel has been nowhere near his world champion best as his temperament has completely changed. But there have been flashes of one of F1’s best ever drivers and Abu Dhabi was one of them.

Ferrari were completely outfoxed by Red Bull early in the race allowing Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who had recovered from the back of the field, to get through and control the battle for the podium. The Scuderia then made a calculated risk and used Lewis Hamilton’s unusual strategy to their advantage. With the Red Bulls bottled up behind a deliberately slow Hamilton and Rosberg, Ferrari left Vettel out as long as possible, allowing him to run flat out and open up a gap. While Vettel was never going to open up enough of a margin to retain the lead when he finally stopped, it gave the German a fighting chance of catching the top five on fresh rubber at the end of the race.

Vettel was never going to open up enough of a margin to retain the lead

Credit has to go to Max Verstappen as well, who was surely the inspiration of the strategy, using a supersoft tyre start, and a 21 lap first stint to open up the opportunity for a one-stop, which was key in moving Verstappen from the back of the field up into a fight for the podium. That said, passing 11 cars by lap eight was all down to the young man’s talent.

After 29 laps on the softs, Vettel pitted on lap 37, rejoining in sixth place, with 18 laps to chase down the Red Bulls and see if he could challenge the Mercedes'. The Silver Arrows were well aware of the threat that Vettel posed, desperately pleading with Hamilton to up the pace. Formation flying on lap 41 put Vettel ahead of his teammate as he started to take seconds per lap out of the gap to the leaders. Ricciardo was his next victim on lap 46, before passing Verstappen, who had the oldest tyres of the lot, on lap 51 to set up 5 laps of panic on the Mercedes pit wall.

At this point, Mercedes' inherent car advantage became clear, according to Vettel himself anyway, as he struggled to get past with a slower engine, eventually settling for third place. It was his first podium since the end of the European season, nearly three months ago, and only a seventh of the year, as the German sealed fourth in the championship, albeit a long way behind Daniel Ricciardo.

Rosberg delivers under pressure

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team: Started 2nd, Finished 2nd

He may have been the slower Mercedes all weekend but Nico Rosberg kept his head and refused to be drawn in by Lewis Hamilton’s games as he secured a maiden world title and became the third German champion, thwarting his teammate from drawing level with Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel.

Rosberg shadowed his teammate, knowing that anything rash or risky only damaged his hopes of a title. The risk-averse strategy allowed Verstappen to split the Mercedes after the first stops. As Mercedes realised that the Dutchman was planning a one-stop, Rosberg showed his aggression and relentless determination, putting a late move on Verstappen at the hairpin on lap 20 to preserve his second place, with a brilliantly-timed late lunge that left Verstappen defenceless going down the back straight into turn 11.

Rosberg showed his aggression and relentless determination

The German would have to be mindful of him for the rest of the race, with Hamilton backing him into the Red Bulls. Rosberg’s final labour to secure his first championship was to survive five laps of attacks from Sebastian Vettel which the new world champion did superbly, not giving his compatriot a sniff on his way to following Hamilton home for the second place he desperately craved.

Ocon cements himself as Mercedes’ next star

Esteban Ocon, Manor Racing MRT: Started 20th, Finished 13th

As Manor have become Mercedes’ version of Toro Rosso, both were desperate to go out on a high, especially with Ocon promoted over Wehrlein up to Force India. After Pascal Wehrlein had starred on Saturday, Ocon wanted to make up with his long run pace. After one lap there was a six place swing, as the Frenchman jumped up to 16th, avoiding the carnage and overtaking Carlos Sainz and Marcus Ericsson, just about avoiding calamity while battling with Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Nasr into turn one.

Ocon was able to climb as high as 11th
Credit: Manor Racing

This really helped Ocon with his alternate strategy. Having started on softs, it aided him in keeping others behind who wanted to maximise the benefit of the softer tyres. Ocon was able to climb as high as 11th, before those who stopped made it back past. Ocon came out 17th, just behind his teammate before the German made his second stop.

Both were desperate to go out on a high, especially with Ocon promoted over Wehrlein up to Force India

Running alternate strategies allowed the German ahead, up into 13th once Ocon had pitted, but the Frenchman had the advantage of softer tyres in the final stint. It all came to a head on lap 49, as the pair approached turn 11, with Ocon forced off the track by his more experienced teammate. The stewards said no further action, allowing the Frenchman to move up to 13th and secure his best result bar Brazil of his maiden campaign in F1.

Yes, Ocon was 40-odd seconds off 12th and matching his best ever drive, with Manor suddenly desperate for points to regain 10th in the championship but 13th was a great result for Manor, as he beat his teammate – who had a full preseason as well as the season in the car – for the third time in nine races, as well as finishing best of the lower order, ahead of Sauber, Renault and Toro Rosso before the Italian squad’s retirements.

The stats are pretty even between Mercedes junior drivers but given the circumstances, you can’t help but feel that Force India made the right decision for 2017.